29 November 2009

109 miles on the freeway with 24 miles left.

We drove from central New Jersey to central Long Island New York yesterday. The trip was 108.7 miles, arrived with the dash board display estimating 24 miles remaining at 19% charge.

We thank the drivers of #351 for generously allowing us to use not only their 50 amp charger, but also a regular 120 volt outlet for a small cabin heater. I took data while the car charged, something I have long wanted to do. The graph is above, a larger image is here.The gap near the beginning was while I plugged in the cabin heater.

Both my wife and I were surprised how easy it is to drive 55 mph or less on the New Jersey Turnpike and all the roads through New York city and Long Island. I averaged under 40 mph from door to door, which explains the very good range of about 133 miles. I had one person honk at me near a toll booth and only two or three people flash their lights. But an astonishing number of other cars fell in behind me in the right lane at a comfortable distance back and just STAYED there! Being the thanksgiving weekend there was plenty of traffic, the Southern State Parkway backed up a couple times each direction. Not sure what this might be like during rush hour...

Of course we did not use the built in heater while driving until very near our destination. See my previous posts about staying warm on long drives. Of course on shorter trips we use the heater as in conventional cars since there is plenty of juice available.

26 November 2009

We have 3 choices, but we always choose the electric

I want to echo something that other bloggers who have multiple cars have mentioned.

My wife and I each have a conventional four cylinder car. Both cars work fine, both get over 30 miles per gallon. But they don't get used much since the Mini E arrived.

Like other electric car bloggers, the first choice for us is always the Mini E. Shopping is fine, there is plenty of room. Besides the far back which holds at least three grocery bags, there is a surprising amount of room UNDER the seats. (Be careful to comply with Mini's instructions NOT to block the battery vents by piling up things BEHIND the seat). If you take a regular paper grocery bag and fill it only half full with the top folded down, it will probably fit nicely under the seat from the back. Depends on how far back you put the seat maybe. Of course, if only one of us is out shopping there is lots of room in the passenger area. I have to buckle the passenger seat belt if there is a heavy bag on it to stop the seat belt reminder. But my wife and I usually shop together and there is still plenty of room.

Now, we are not the types who do all of our shopping at one store. We tend to buy produce at our locally owned, small "Organic Only" store, there are some things we prefer to get from Trader Joe's, some things from Whole Foods market, and a few things from the main stream Shop Rite or Stop & Shop and so on. And since most of these stores are in different directions, it is easy to go home between trips and unload.

And on almost every other trip we make, we will take the Mini E if it is around. It is always charged, our kids are grown and out of the house so two seats are enough. So shopping, going out dancing or to the movies or a restaurant, to church, to social events, it is always the Mini E. And the range is more than enough. My 120 mile round trip commute to work is the only thing that gets close to the range limit. The only exceptions so far have been going to the airport. Well, even for that we usually take the train anyway since it is cheaper than long term parking and often as fast.

For many years we have had three cars in the house. One for the kids and one each for us parents. We are keeping three for now since the Mini E is experimental and a backup is required. I don't know how many families are really single car households, I bet not many in the middle class. I expect most have at least two cars these days except in dense city centers. I bet for most multi car households, a 2 seat electric would be the car of choice for daily use as it has been for us.

We have needed the range of the gas car just once in several months for a long trip.

Rain strategies and charger sharing

I have had three visits now from other Mini E drivers stopping by to charge up, two of the three were traveling for business. I expect to start calling around to charge at other locations soon. Thanks again for the charger sharing site, whoever did that.

Since the heavy rain last week and drizzle since, I have been having a little trouble getting the Mini E to start charging at 240 volts again. For quite a while while it was dry I had no trouble. But whenever it refuses by blinking a few times and then stopping, I can always get it to charge from the 120 volt cord right away. After a few minutes of that (when I assume the damp connectors are drying out) it will continue charging when I switch back to 240 volts. So for me this continues to be little more than an annoyance, althogh I know other driver are quite frustrated by the same or worse troubles.

Mini, have you figured out which cable is causing the problem yet? Hmmm? Is engineering working on this? I might have to get out my hair dryer and figure it out for you soon.

A word about the windows fogging up in the rain when using the recirculate button to keep the car warmer: One big advantage of preheating the car with "shore power" and a small 900 watt car heater is that it really dries out the car. It also takes a lot less battery power to maintain warmth in the car than it does to heat it up from cold, so there is little range impact.

But when the windows eventually fog up as the car cools down, I have good luck simply using the fan on lowest setting with no heat and the air directed to the windshield. It has been raining for days in NJ and PA, and still I can complete my one hour and 40 minute drive to work without using the heater at all,and keeping the front and side windows clear by only using the fan about 20% of the time or less. The rear defogger is another matter, I am finally starting to use that. I need to measure the rear defogger power consumption one of these days...

19 November 2009

The pattern is clear: Moisture

Forget cycling the ignition when there is a charging problem.  The cause  is moisture.

Mini, are you not doing the main work in southern California?  What "The Firesign Theater" called "the stinking desert"?  You guys need to take a Mini E up to Seattle and drive it around in the rain until you see this charging problem.  Here is what happened to me tonight, and I have seen it before:

Come home in the rain, wipers on fast for much of the drive.

Plug in the car.

The RED light comes on steady on the Clipper Creek wall mounted safety box.  (The GFCI tripped, but I ask that civilians please do not open the box to look at the LEDs.)

Unplug and plug back in, same RED light.  Sound like moisture to you?

Try it again, the Clipper Creek box stays on (GREEN light) and the car starts to charge but stops after 5 seconds.  OK, something dried out enough to keep the Clipper Creek box happy but the AC Propulsion electronics in the car sees the leakage now.

Unplug, try again, same thing.

Turn down the current to 12 amps, same thing.  Of course if it is moisture, the leakage is related to voltage, not to current.

So I get out the low voltage charging interface, the portable 120 volt box.  It charges fine.

After 30 seconds I switch back to 240 volts.  The car stops as before with the Clipper Creek wall box still on.

Switch back to 120 volts, where presumably the leakage current is lower and it does not set off the safety trip in the car.  Let it charge for a couple minutes while presumably drying out whatever got wet.

Switch back to  the 240 volt wall box, and all it well in the world.  It keeps charging.

Turn up the current to 50 amps.  It keeps charging.  Of course, since leakage is not related to - what?  Yes, not related to current but to applied voltage.

OK, Mini, you have moisture infiltrating on the AC side of the Power Electronics Unit (PEU).  My guess is either at the connector to grid power on the back drivers side, or under the hood at the PEU.  It cannot be after the PEU because the voltage is always the same on that side, only the current changes.  And we know that leakage is proportional to what?  Right, the voltage.

Is it time for  the big caulking gun?  Maybe.  Mini just needs to get it right on the production cars, I can deal with this.  This car drives more confidently than any other car.  Period.  I can deal with slight lack of confidence in the charger.

08 November 2009

Charge problem? Cycle the "ignition"

Last night after a friend test drove #458, we had trouble getting it to continue charging again.  I measured 252 volts at the contactor (not recommended for civilians) but it would not charge more than about 5 seconds.  So I tried a tip from a very old posting on the Facebook discussion topics, I turned the car On and then Off.  Eureka, it started charging just fine.  (At 50 amps.)

OK, maybe it was coincidence.  And Mini did respond to my email about this, saying they are looking into it.

So the problem is getting less severe for me, nine out of ten times it charges fine.  And I have not had the red  light on the wall box for a long time.  I suspect we'll get to the bottom of it soon.  I hope Mini gets it fixed before Michael with #269 gets too frustrated.  Hang in there Michael!

05 November 2009

Three tries to start charging tonight

Maybe it was the rain, I don't know. Almost 5 minutes passed tonight from turning off the Mini until plugging in the cord, and then 5 blinks and charging stopped. I waited 15 seconds and tried again, still no go. I came back in two minutes, plugged in again and it started up and kept going this time.

I have not seen the red blinking light for awhile on the Clipper Creek box that others have reported lately. Maybe the AC Propulsion box can sense leakage itself, and stops charging. (This is my moisture theory, it was raining tonight.) I guess I should leave the key in so the display will light up in case there is an icon or message.

I did look at the charging port with a flash light but there did not seem to be moisture. Maybe I should take a hair dryer to it anyway.

Since I had this problem before and after the flying doctor changed my Magic Box last time, I suspect the issue is in the battery (moisture?) or just a software problem. I am not buying Mini's guess in their last email that the voltage from the power company is low. When that happens, the Clipper Creek box stops the charge and it restarts by itself. The problem I am seeing is the car stopping the charging process and it won't restart until the connector is removed and reinserted.

Secret "weapon" revealed

OK, Mini did a fine job with the E but every prototype program has some rough edges. One thing they did not do well was HEAT. Maybe there is a kilowatt of waste heat from the motor and some could have been recovered for cabin heat. Maybe battery heat could have warmed the cabin instead of being vented outside. Maybe a reversible heat pump instead of the the AC pump could have warmed the cabin without so much impact on the range.

Too Bad. I am happy I got a Mini E anyway. I'm sure the production version will be better.

And the photo above is one way I say "I am a pioneer!". I'll post a photo of my Sorels later. Just started wearing them this morning. Sweet on the feet, and you know what? There IS enough room on the accelerator pedal for the King of snowmobile boots, without hitting the brake at the same time.

The only time I used the heater in today's cold weather was when the windshield got foggy in the rain. And all it takes is maybe 3 notches up from the coldest, which is in the middle of the blue range of the knob. Yes, there is some heat when it is still in the blue, at least as far as the windshield is concerned. Doesn't affect the driving range much until you get to the red. And yes, that is 3 notches while keeping the recirculate on as much as I can.

By the way, I wonder is the auto off for the recirculate is needed in summer to keep the batteries cool? Mini, can you kill the auto off for the recirculate when the ambient and battery temperatures are cold? Thank you.

I have not decided where to "wear" my heater, shown in its fully charged shape. Lately I wear it under my sweater. Lap is possible, not as effective maybe. Maybe I should try it on my head? No, too heavy. I believe the most common use is for feet while sleeping. Can't do that while driving, hence the Sorels.

I am seeing some reduction in range, but I think it is mostly because the change in time (driving home in the dark since daylight saving time ended) has cost me my patience. I am driving faster. But maybe it is the cold.

With some luck I will put away the hot water bottle soon. The facility manager at my work place has a quote from Clipper Creek on a 208 volt 50 amp "EVSE" (charging interface box) just like the one Mini installed in my garage. I should know in a week or so if they will put it in or not. If they do I can go back to living like there are no seasons, wearing short sleeves in January. Ah, the good life, huh?

Something in this Minnesota boy LIKES wearing wool underwear and driving with no heat. Especially when it takes money away from oil producing countries that hate us. And I like to show mother nature that "I am a pioneer!"

02 November 2009

I have not explained the issue clearly enough to Mini

Mini sent their weekly email, which basically said that if your car does not keep charging just wait and it will restart by itself.

I doubted this in a reply to their email but I don't expect them to answer.

And I had the issue again tonight. I waited as they said. 30 minutes and it did NOT restart. I pulled out the plug and stuck it back in and all is well.

It is increasingly clear that my issue is time between turning off the car and starting to charge. It is not (in my case anyway) low voltage from the power company. When I plugged in tonight the car started blinking as it does when charging and then stopped after a few seconds. Both power phases were slightly above 125 volts and within 0.2 volts of each other, so that is not the issue as Mini suggested in their last mass email.

For over a week I made a point of plugging in the car the moment I turned it off and had no trouble with charging. Today I went back to taking my notes before plugging in which means several minutes wait after turning off and before charging, and the problem returned.

I will start timing how long of a delay from power off until plugging in a then log whether there is an issue with charging. This should give Mini enough info to reproduce the issue. In any case waiting does get around the problem but not without intervention. I do need to remove and replace the connector.